287) Social aspects of our controversy


Ludwik Kowalski; 3/30/2006
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043


1) Responding to a comment posted by Charles Baudette, at the 17th anniversary of the famous press release about the discovery of cold fusion, Steven Krivit wrote:

I just looked at the very first CF news story from the Financial Times just now. What is interesting to me is that they accurately represent F&P's primary basis (excess heat.) "The two scientists are convinced that they have achieved nuclear fusion, rather than a conventional chemical reaction, because very large amounts of heat are released and because some of the expected products of fusion - tritium, neutrons and gamma rays - are formed.  Even so, it is not clear what fusion processes are taking place."

Well, I guess this, in itself, is not so profound. What I find profound is that this key actually did appear -- at least once -- but everybody else afterwards missed it and got caught up in the "It sure don't look like fusion to me" mess. You've mentioned this before how the books by Huizenga, Close, etc. totally neglected heat. It seems the identical case for the newspapers too: All the subsequent reporters neglected to mention the heat - at least in a way that represented F&P's perspective. Is this your observation and recollection of the popular press too?

2) Charles Baudette responded:

 . . . All that the outspoken physicists wanted to talk about was "cold fusion."
        1. The subject of "excess heat" would require them to develop some proficiency in calorimetry --- an unpleasant prospect.
        2. When the engineering group at NSF (along with EPRI) called a meeting in the fall of 1989, their purpose was to bring together those who claimed success at excess heat generation for a comparison of experimental work and discussion of how to improve the experiment.  Huizenga led the charge to claim that those who denied the neutronic evidence for "cold fusion" had not been invited.  He converted the meeting (for the press) to one about cold D+D fusion.
        3. When these physicists went to ICCF meetings (with J. Bishop in tow), they were looking only for reports of neutron (of a certain energy) emissions.  When they did not see that, they would report to the press that there was still no progress in the field.
        4. When Morrison reported to the newsgroup science/physics/fusion his take on the ICCF8 (2000) meeting, he mentioned my book.  He gave it the title "Why cold fusion prevailed."  He did not want the physics community to learn that "excess heat" was continuing to be studied, and he did not want the topic to be broadened from "cold fusion" to "cold fusion research."  This is typical of the criticisms of our field.
        In discussion with physicists and the press, try to get them to study videos of the original press conference so that, in their criticism, they can get started off on the right foot.  Most have a distorted notion of what was announced.
        
2) My reply, on the restricted Internet list for the CMNS researchers:

I agree with Charles; excess heat is one thing and ways of explaining it is another thing. Let qualified theoretical people discuss possible explanations of experimental data, after such data are validated. Premature speculations are tempting and exciting -- but they can be dangerous. It would be better if Fleischmann and Pons did not start speculating about nuclear origin of excess heat prematurely.

3) On another thread I wrote:

Michel also asked: "is it ok to speculate about explanations between us people already convinced of the reality of the excess heat?" Why not? I was referring to our anticipated formal publication of experimental data. In that paper we should avoid theoretical speculations. That would divert discussion from the main issue -- the reliability of experimental facts. Interpretation of facts will appear naturally after such facts are recognize as valid. That would already be a big step forward. We should discuss what happens in the kitchen and learn from what more qualified people have to say in the dining room. We badly need an accepted theory to guide future experiments.

In my opinion the history of cold fusion would have been very different if Fleischmann and Pons have had simply said "we observed excess heat but we do not know where it comes from." That what we should say in a publication describing results from recent Mizuno type experiments [Paris-1, Colorado-2, Paris-2, Texas-2 and (?) Colorado-3], provided we all agree that the measured excess heat is not an illusion (caused by experimental errors, or due to well known processes). Results from experiments now in progress, or in preparation, should be decisive. It will probably take at least several weeks before we are ready to start writing a paper.

4) Scott Chubb, responding to the message that started this thread, wrote:

I think the hype that the press conference was shameful evolved from two factors:

1. As opposed to looking at the original sources, with time, members of the press relied upon accounts, provided by "purported experts" and other members of the scientific community.

2. Resentment within the scientific community was wide-spread and almost immediate because F&P called the press conference and went public with their results prior to communicating their results (even within their own department) to the scientific community.

A hidden problem, associated with the second factor, resulted from the use of FAX machines. In particular, David Lindley pointed out that their original paper had an obvious error (associated with the energy of the neutrons) that would have been corrected through the review process. But the review process broke down because their paper, de facto, was published in pre-print form (through FAX machines), and this error was not corrected prior to publication. This further compounded a bad situation. In any case, most scientists, at an early point in the debate, got the impression that by calling the press conference, in the first place, F&P had seriously undermined their own credibility and this action, by itself, was viewed as being shameful.

5) Jed Rothwell wrote:

This was outrageous hypocrisy, especially on the part of the plasma fusion researchers. Back then and still today, those people routinely call a press conference after a major experimental run. They ballyhoo their results and declare a breakthrough months before they even write a paper, or publish one. They even go the Congress and demand more funding on the strength of unpublished experiments. As I recall,
some years ago Members of Congress got fed up with this practice and told them to stop it.

Researchers in every field do science by press conference. They always have, and they always will. This is another case of demanding cold fusion meet a standard that no other area of research has ever been called upon to meet. "Skeptics" demand 100% reproducibility, even though that is absurd and no practically other breakthrough has ever been so reproducible (except perhaps the x-ray). They demand commercial products before they accept the reality of the phenomenon. They demand a theoretical explanation, even though nearly every important breakthrough in history has been important precisely because it did not have an explanation. It is all stuff & nonsense.

6) Scott Chubb added:

I agree. Complicating the issue, however, was the confusion that resulted because at the time Jones's group "seemed" to be doing the same kind of experiment when (as we know, now), this was not the case at all.

7) Jed Rothwell added:

The problem did not begin on May 1, or after the press conference. The problem was inevitable. Martin Fleischmann knew full well that he and Pons would be booted out of the establishment. He knew this long before he made the announcement. See the letter from him quoted in Beaudette's book, page 147:

After the press conference, [Arrhenius's granddaughter] Dr. Caldwell came up to us and said, "Well, when my grandfather proposed electrolytic disassociation he was dismissed from the University. At least that won't happen to you." I said
to her, "But you are entirely mistaken. We shall be dismissed as well."

Scientists have always rejected radical discoveries. The problem has grown worse since the Manhattan Project, which politicized basic research, and put it under the control by Washington. The postwar peer review system has also corrupted the process. The skeptics were pathological all along, and if the press conference or the May 1 meeting had not occurred, they would have seized upon some other event or excuse to reject the findings.

People sometimes blame the name "cold fusion" for the opposition, saying it is was a misrepresentation. Of all the nonsensical objections to cold fusion, this is the most absurd, as any linguist or philosopher knows. There is such a thing as confusing terminology, and technical words are sometimes revised to avoid confusion or standardize vocabulary. But fundamentally, the notion that a word can "misrepresent" something goes back to the bronze age, when people believed language has magical power, and a word embodies the thing it represents. All words in all languages are approximations. Words are tokens. They are often based upon some faulty notion that was current when the thing was discovered. Everyone knows that weather is not caused by meteors but we still call it "meteorology." "Manufacturing" is not work done by hand (manus = hand). It now means just the opposite: work done by machine. But these terms are not inaccurate. "Meteorology" and "manufacturing" mean what we say they mean, and nothing else. Words are nearly always obsolescent, because we have no term when something is first discovered, and we must reach back to our older stock of words. Horses no longer dash in front of the "dashboard," and it is not a wooden board, but we still call it that. We say that computer files are "collected" in "folders" even though nothing folds, and nothing is physically collected.

8) Scott Chubb:
Scientists frequently reject radical discoveries,  but there are also counter-examples; in particular, in 1987, a radical discovery (High Tc  superconductivity) was made, where the system functioned.  I would argue that the peer-review process is prone to mistakes in situations involving radical changes.  But a major reason for this is  Postwar funding (as opposed to the peer review system).

In the case of Cold Fusion, there were many factors that entered that corrupted the process.  A subtlety in  all of this (that was brought out in the Accountability in Research collection of articles--which, as you know is available at <www.lenr-canr.org>)  was
the role of information era technology in disrupting the review process.  This (not the postwar review system) was at the heart of the underlying problem.  Martin might or might not appreciate this.  It was only through talking to Lindley face-to-face and  by looking in detail at Dave Nagel's and David Goodstein's contributions to the collection that I realized this.

Dave Nagel's contribution (which I highly recommend) pinpoints, nicely,
the key aspects of the communication process that subsequently broke down (after the press conference and after the 1 May 1989 session).  David Goodstein's contribution identifies the turning point  (the 1 May session), beyond which the scientific process was doomed to failure.  It can be argued that the breakdown was inevitable.  But these two articles (by Goodstein and Nagel), and the interview I conducted with Lindley, provide significant evidence that until 1 May 1989, there was a reasonable chance that the process could have continued to function.

 An important point to keep in mind is that scientific conferences can seriously help or impair communication.  Communication can be seriously impaired especially when information is presented in an unstructured way and the appropriate individuals are not present.   This is precisely what happened in the 1 May 1989 session.  At that time, although Pons and Fleischmann were not even in attendance, they were accused of carelessness and sloppy work by Lewis, in particular,  (as well as by others) at a mass gathering of physicists.  This took place in a hostile setting,  and neither Pons or Fleischmann had the opportunity to respond.  In many respects, the associated ritual can be likened to a "spiritual event", in which physicists became convinced, as a result of serious broaches in scientific protocol, that purported "experts" (like Lewis), who actually knew basically nothing, had demonstrated that Cold Fusion was
bogus.

In fact, the real problem pre-dated both the Press Conference and the APS session.  It occurred because of the review process that was adopted by Ryszard Gajewski to evaluate the grant proposal that P&F had submitted to DoE.  In particular, Gajewski sent the proposal to Jones to be reviewed.  Then, as opposed to forcing Jones and P&F to work together, competition between the two groups resulted.  This triggered the Press Conference.

[Jed Wrote:] The skeptics were pathological all along, and if the press conference or the May 1 meeting had not occurred, they would have seized upon some other event or excuse to reject the findings.

I disagree.  This is speculation.

[Jed wrote:] People sometimes blame the name "cold fusion" for the opposition, saying it is was a misrepresentation. Of all the nonsensical objections to cold fusion, this is the most absurd, as any linguist or philosopher knows.

Jed, you have not talked to mainstream physicists about this.   It may seem absurd, but it is a fact that the name has caused a problem.  For them, cold fusion had a meaning, that the effect was the result of a colder form of conventional fusion.  Along with this meaning came the assumption that high energy particles, and the conventional products of fusion, would be present.  Complicating the fact that this name has caused many physicists to have these preconceptions, in fact, Jones may have very well discovered the kind of "colder version" of fusion that physicists thought was required.

[Jed wrote:] There is such a thing as confusing terminology, and technical words are sometimes revised to avoid confusion or standardize vocabulary.

This is what has happened with cold fusion.  I would suggest that the terminology "Condensed Matter Nuclear Science" is considerably more appropriate.  I have found that using this terminology has been quite useful in alerting physicists to the fact that they may have been wrong in their assumptions about cold fusion.  Technically, Jones's work is closest to the definition that physicists would associate with cold fusion.  Pons and Fleischmann's work should also be associated with cold fusion.  But I believe that the terminology has been applied inappropriately when it has been used in conjunction with the transmutation work.  In particular, I do not believe a single effect is at work in many of these effects and to lump all of them into a single category, called cold fusion, seriously misrepresents the physics behind the underlying phenomena.

[Jed wrote:] But fundamentally, the notion that a word can "misrepresent" something goes back to the bronze age, when people believed language has magical power, and a word embodies the thing it represents. All words in all languages are approximations. Words are tokens. They are often based upon some faulty notion that was current when the thing was discovered. Everyone knows that weather is not caused by meteors but we still call it "meteorology." "Manufacturing" is not work done by hand (manus = hand). It now means just the opposite: work done by machine. But these terms are not inaccurate. "Meteorology" and "manufacturing" mean what we say they mean, and nothing else. Words are nearly always obsolescent, because we have no term when something is first discovered, and we must reach back to our older stock of words. Horses no longer dash in front of the "dashboard," and it is not a wooden board, but we still call it that. We say that computer files are "collected" in "folders" even though nothing folds, and nothing is physically collected.

        These are all interesting points.  Eventually, the terminology "cold fusion" might stick.  For now, I think it should be abandoned, and the terminology "Condensed Matter Nuclear Science" should be used, at least in situations involving mainstream scientists.

9) Jed Rothwell:

One of the lessons of history is that when extremists make threats, denounce people, and when they call you a fraud and a criminal, you should take them seriously. They mean what they say. Such people do not kid, and they seldom exaggerate for effect. The Nazis really did intend to exterminate the Jews. The extreme Islamic fascists really do want to impose Sharia law on the US and all other nations. They flew airplanes into buildings, they killed Salman Rushdie's Japanese translator, and given half a chance they would kill the Danish cartoonists. The professors who brought legal proceedings against Taleyarkhan intend to shred his reputation and crush his research. They will stop at nothing. They do not consider themselves unethical. They see themselves as the defenders of science against the rabble. They would be happy to see Taleyarkhan serve time in jail, if it came to that. They will make any accusation that sticks, including larceny. Similar people tried to destroy Bockris with these tactics. If they could, they would put cold fusion researchers in jail too. They have told me this and I have no reason to doubt they mean it.

Some people have suggested that Robert Park may be softening his stand. This is nonsense. It is dangerous nonsense if you fall for it, or lower your guard against him. Here is what Park wrote in 1996, in a Washington Post review of Close's book: “Close  asks  in  the first chapter, ‘Was this a delusion, an error, or a fraud?’  By  the  end  of the book, it is clear that cold fusion progressed through  all  three.  What  began  as wishful interpretations of sloppy and incomplete   experiments   ended   with   altered   data,   suppression  of contradictory evidence and deliberate obfuscation.

After  a  while,  the  objective  seems to have been just to prolong the inevitable--but Fleischmann and Pons were no longer alone. Inept scientists whose  reputations  would  be  tarnished,  greedy  administrators  who  had involved  their  institutions,  gullible politicians who had squandered the taxpayers'  dollars,  lazy journalists who had accepted every press release at  face  value--all now had an interest in making it appear that the issue had  not  been  settled. Their easy corruption was one of the most chilling aspects of this sad comedy. To  be  sure,  there  are true believers among the cold-fusion acolytes, just  as  there are sincere scientists who believe in psychokinesis, flying saucers,  creationism  and  the  Chicago  Cubs. The lesson from "Too Hot to Handle"   is   that  a  PhD  in  science  is  not  an  inoculation  against foolishness--or mendacity.“

He repeated the gist of these comments in 2002. I have not read a single word by him that hints he has had a second thought or a moment's doubt. If you wonder about this, ask him. If he bothers to respond he will probably tell you that he sticks to every word. He has never been reticent about expressing his views.

I know of only one hard-core, anti-cold fusion campaigner who does not frankly own up to his views, and does not respond to such inquiries: Steve Jones. As you saw the other day when I asked him whether he really believes the excess heat results, he cuts and runs. He evades the issue. I suppose he is trying to play both sides and build up support among cold fusion researchers, as well among the people who despise cold fusion. I cannot imagine why he thinks he needs help from us, since we have no political power, funding or influence. Based on all of his published papers and on countless conversations with him, I am certain he does not believe the heat is beyond the limits of chemistry (anomalous). He may want to give the impression that he is willing to examine that idea and take it seriously, but I am sure he cannot bring himself to do that. For one thing, he has not published a single word admitting that might be the case. For another, if he were to confront the truth he would have to admit that Fleischmann and Pons were right from the beginning, and he was wrong,  and this has been obvious all along. I doubt he is capable of admitting he made such a drastic mistake.

10) Ludwik Kowalski (not posted):
Jed has been trained in humanities and in linguistics. But he is very knowledgeable in many areas of CMNS (condensed matter nuclear science is the new name for what used to be known under the name of cold fusion). Scott, on the other hand, is a theoretical physicist . Each of them believes in reality of excess heat and in its nuclear origin. I suspect the the friendly exchanges of points of view between Jed and Scott will continue. But I have to stop somewhere. There were one more message from Jed, one more from Scott and an additional one from Jed. All of them are interesting. But my goal, in composing this unit, was to show what some CMNS researchers think about social aspect of the 17-years controversy.

11) More from Jed Rothwell:

The people who oppose cold fusion went on record within days of the announcement. At MIT they held a party to "celebrate the death of cold fusion." Professors called for the arrest and imprisonment of Fleischmann and Pons for fraud. The US secretary of energy said he could tell cold fusion is wrong because he saw Fleischmann on television, and "Fleischmann looked stupid." These people never gave cold fusion two seconds of consideration. To this day, they have never looked at any evidence. They are not shy about their views. The editor of the Scientific American brags that he has never looked at a paper.

Whenever anyone mentions cold fusion they assert with unshakable confidence that all cold fusion researchers are frauds or lunatics, all are a disgrace to academia, and should all be hounded, ridiculed and fired -- tenure are not. They are as sure we are wrong as I am sure the Flat Earth society is wrong. Perhaps they do not say this to you in person but that is what they say elsewhere, and their actions prove that is what they think. They are not mincing words, kidding, or exaggerating their own views, so you should believe them. There was never any question that these people are bitterly opposed and they will fight to the end.

12) More from Scott Chubb:
It is sad to say that people do pay attention to stature and background. So, I don't doubt that in many cases, particular editors might say one thing to you and something else to me, simply because I am a mainstream scientist and you are not.

[Jed wrote:] There was never any question that these
people are bitterly opposed and they will fight to the end.

Many people have become bitterly opposed to the subject. But in most cases, this is because they either have not formed their own opinions (and have based their opinions on the opinions of "experts"), or they have not bothered to learn the facts.

13) Another quote from Jed Rothwell:

Scott, I think you gravely underestimate the opposition. You do not understand the severity of the problem. You seem to think these are reasonable people who mainly "fail to understand." Perhaps they are polite to you when you meet at a conference. I have met Huizenga, Park and and Morrison, and I was polite to them as a matter of course. I would consider it beneath my dignity to insult them in public. I would not want them to think they have got my goat.

These are not nice people who have made some sort of miscalculation or forgot to read a paper. It is not as if they have been meaning to do some fact checking but it has slipped their mind every month for the past 17 years. They have made their goals and their intentions crystal clear, time after time, in statements to the press and to me
and to others. They despise you. They do not believe a word you say. They think you are a crazy, lying, criminal fraud. They do not give a fig about academic standards or freedom or fairness -- they say such standards do not apply to lunatics. Their goal is to destroy you and they will stop at nothing to accomplish this goal.

If you do not think these people hate you, ask yourself: Why do they keep shouting that they hate you?!? Why do they take legal action against Taleyarkhan? What more will it take to convince you? Do they have to come and burn your house down?

Seriously, you might as well doubt the intentions of Bin Laden. You might as well wonder whether he hates you and wants to do you harm. Yes, he does. People are not all sensible, kind and reasonable. Our dispute with Bin Laden is not caused by a failure to communicate, or by good intentions gone awry. Bin Laden is communicating loud and clear, and there is no doubt what he wants to do. He has repeatedly declared that his goal is to use a nuclear bomb against a U.S. city. For months he has been asking the leading Muslim radical imams for a fatwa (permission) to proceed. They say fine, go ahead, as long as he kills fewer than 10 million people per attack. (According the ex-CIA section chief who wrote "Imperial Hubris.") So if a stolen Russian bomb goes off, will you be surprised?


Our professional journalist, Steve Krivit, who triggered this thread wrote:

Jed and Scott, You are both have logical and correct-sounding viewpoints. It seems that you're just looking at it from different perspectives. And insightful ones, each.

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